She is mother of three daughters. She wanted a son, too, in addition to daughters. But that did not happen. The daughters were really pretty. They were intelligent, and did very well in schools and colleges. Her husband was a successful management executive with technical education as a backdrop. Even as he did well, he did not lose his contacts with his relatives back in the village where he was born. Yet, whenever it was time to visit the village, the couple shivered. They did not want to undertake that annual trip or an occasional visit for a wedding or some ritual. For, each visit produced only bitter memories very difficult to erase.
The reason was the three daughters and no son. The village hated any family in which there was no son. The woman who did not have a son was useless, and socially unacceptable. The village elders and others did not miss a chance to insult the woman. She was not allowed to take part in rituals. Eventually, daughters grew up, got married, and had kids that included sons. So, in the village, the mother of three daughters was not welcome for rituals but her daughters who had sons were most welcome.
The woman is in her mid seventies. Yet, she still shivers with the thought of emerging from their urban home and visiting the village even for a couple of days. The village has still not forgiven her for not having a son.
To the urban mind, this is strange. But to a rural mind, this is an everyday experience. In urban societies, countless families have only daughters and the society has no problems. In villages, from where come lakhs of families to urban centers to make honourable living, things are different, and rather antithetical to what is happening in the cities.
Talk to any woman who has come from a village and settled in a city about this and she will tell you what sort of picture is available back in the village.
In the rural society, bearing a son is most important. If a woman does not bear a son, then she is incomplete. In villages, in shockingly large numbers of families, the sons are treated with special care. They get creamy milk with lots of sugar while daughters get a bland tea. Sons go to schools and colleges, but daughters are allowed to go to schools only for a few years before they are withdrawn for house work. After all, they are going to be married off into some family!
Again, this sounds absurd to the urban mind. How could they behave like that, one may ask. But in rural India, it is still a harsh reality. Sons are valued more than daughters. The woman who does not bear a son faces unnecessary social hostility for which no one has any explanation.
There is a correction to be added here. I am not talking actually about urban-rural divide. I am talking about different mindsets. The reference to cities or villages only indicates cultures. Even in cities, there are innumerable families – all educated and ‘modern’ in which a clear-cut discrimination is made between a male child and a female child. In such families, the so-called modernity has little value when it comes to a girl child.
In contrast, there are also innumerable families in which a girl is as much welcome as a boy is. In fact, there are families that prefer girls to boys. There are also innumerable childless couples opting for a girl child when they adopt a child. Girls are better, these people insist. Girls take care of their parents better. They are as good as boys on most points. They take up all kinds of careers even in male-dominated areas and prove successful, they say.
All this notwithstanding, the larger Indian society still has a shockingly high percentage of families in which a son-less mother faces severe social hostility, in rural as well as urban areas. The issue, thus, is more about evolving culture that respects every child as God’s gift. The issue is about how we treat a girl child when she comes contrary to expectations of a son’s birth.
The picture has changed over the past some decades, no doubt. Yet, old ideas die hard and persist like the incurable cancer that keeps coming up time and again, no matter the surgical treatment.
What is the solution, then, one may ponder. The solution is in evolving a better understanding of what a child means, whether a boy or a girl. That can be achieved only when a concerted social action is initiated by all right thinking people to create a right perspective on what a child means.
In simple terms, every child – a boy or a girl – is a gift from God. In case of a baby girl being born in the family, it should be treated as an extra-special gift. For, the girl is more sensitive, more sensible, and makes as good a sense as does a boy in the ultimate analysis.
Published in The Hitavada Womens World – 08 Sep 2010